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The University of Southampton

All at sea with Charles II

Published: 27 April 2012Origin: History
Charles II

Professor Maria Hayward is investigating how the first Royal yachts were furnished and equipped, thanks to ship plans and details of fixtures and fittings from the archives.

Queen Elizabeth II sailed on the Royal Yacht Britannia, now decommissioned and berthed at Leith, but Charles II had 25 Royal yachts, one for each year of his reign. The first was a gift from the Dutch, after his time in exile in the Netherlands, and the rest were the work of British boatbuilders. Frequently, they were named after the King’s family, mistresses and illegitimate children.

Shipwright’s drawings from the National Maritime Museum have given Maria the dimensions of these sailing craft, which were around 66 feet long, she also has information from the archive of The Great Wardrobe in the City of London about how they were furnished.

“We have details of wall hangings of damask and stamped, gilded leather,” she explains. “We think furniture such as the state bed must have been specially built for the yachts and probably remained on board but much work remains to be done into exactly what they looked like.”

Historical accounts suggest Charles II’s maritime activities started a fashion of yacht owning and racing among members of the aristocracy. It is known the monarch raced against his brother. Royal yachts also had significant diplomatic importance.

Maria’s research has already led to two student projects. Archaeology MSc student Alexander Reinhold is using computer reconstructions to examine how the shipwrights brought light into the living quarters, Ship science BSc student Adam Gibbard is investigating how the Royal yachts handled under racing conditions.

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